Archive for category: Marriage

Nurturing Fragile Vows (On Marriage)

When you’re 22, what is marriage? What is a set of vows, a union, a sacrament? What is the cloud of souls witnessing your specific affirmation of monogamous love?

For richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, till death do us part.

What is the honeymoon, the union, the sex? When you’re 22, what is any of it but an awkward entry into a commitment you’ll never understand, one that is wholly un-understandable? At 22, who can say what it means to be one? Who understands the fusion of souls?

No one.

This week, almost 18 years into my marriage, I caught wind of a divorce, and another, and another. Two were brought on by infidelity. (Who can blame a spouse for leaving a lover who’s taken another lover?) The other couple went Splitsville over Lord-only-knows-what, though it is said that one lover fell out of love with the other lover. (And yes, love dies on occasion, no matter what the Marriage Gurus tell you. (But know this: Every death is an occasion for resurrection.))

This is an excerpt from last week’s newsletter (sign up HERE to read the entire newsletter), and it was spurred by another round of divorce news. This is how the news of divorce comes–in rounds.

Every time the news of another spate of divorces reaches me, a dark cloud sets in, or maybe my brain feels as if it’s melting into existential goo, or perhaps the world seems to spin backward. I’m not really sure how to put it, exactly, but the point is this: news of divorce makes everything feel so broken; it makes me ask too many questions.

What makes my marriage any different?

Is my love impervious?

Do I think I’m any better than Mr. X or Mrs. Y who couldn’t seem to muster up enough stick-with-it?

What is marriage stick-with-it, anyway?

Existential marriage questions are worse than existential death questions, which is saying quite a lot coming from an Enneagram 5 with a 4 wing who lives his life squarely in life’s existential gap. (This is a thing worse than melancholy, I assure you.)

Who knows all the ways the thread of a marriage can be pulled, the ways it can be unwound? I’m not sure anyone does. What’s more, I refuse to explore the multiplicity of ways, because my tolerance for angst and paranoia only stretches so far on a beautiful Ozarkan summer day. But somehow, the simple awareness that marriages are akin to loose-threaded scarves (vows subject to being pulled apart) keeps me attuned to my own pulling penchants, the ways I could unwind everything with a few bad decisions. That attunement–it reminds me that marriages are things to be nurtured, to be repaired when necessary.

I’m inviting you to tune into the fragility of your own vows today, and in that attunement, to consider the ways you might nurture or repair your own union. And for those who lack creativity, perhaps I could offer a few suggestions:

-Confess that thing that’s been eating you up and ask for forgiveness;

-Schedule a date;

-Buy your spouse a bouquet of flowers;

-Schedule an appointment with a marriage therapist;

-Write some new vows (consider these by Tim Willard);

-Have a good bedroom romp. (Yes, I wrote that.)

Nurture, repair, nurture, repair–this is the way to cultivate a healthy marriage, I think (though I’m no Marriage Guru). Isn’t this the thing you want more than anything? Isn’t it worth the effort?

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The Marriage of Competing Kingdoms

“Competing kingdoms will come,” the preachers should say on any wedding day. “Your need for sex, her need for connection, the Kingdom’s need for unity–these things can seem so at odds.” This is the sermon every bride and groom should hear, but I’ve never (not once) heard it, decorum and context being what they are these days. But this, I think, is the heart of the matter. Marriage is an exercise in recognizing competing kingdoms.

I want.

She wants.

Heaven wants. (Doesn’t it?)

There is the Kingdom of Heaven (or so we say). What does it want but unity, longevity, eternality, beauty?

There are the base kingdoms of pleasure, happiness, and self-fulfillment, too; we know this to be true. Those base kingdoms, the self-centered ones, how are they found in the poorer, the sickness, the death? Where is happiness when the lips of your lover turn sour (or worse, venomous)? Where is self-fulfillment when the wedding-day vows become past-tense lies, when the sex becomes perfunctory or the marital bed sheened over in a duvet of ice? Where is the self-fulfillment when your lover carries cancer into the hospice bed? The baser kingdoms are so dependent, so fickle.

What are our marriages but competing kingdoms–the Kingdom of Heaven against the kingdoms of our own makings? If this is true, I wonder this: Isn’t marriage an exercise in uprooting our own kingdoms, in cultivating a Kingdom that’s somehow more permanent? This wonder leads me to a second sort of quandary: How could we ever do this on our own?

 

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Sacraments Within Sacraments Within Sacraments

On occasion, the boys and I head out into God’s first sacrament, the place he first made his grace known to men and women–nature. Our favorite among The First Sacramental places is Steel Creek, a short stretch of the Buffalo River with the best little swimming hole in all of America. (This is not hyperbolic.) After a day in the water, we walked upstream and were treated to witness a sacrament within The First Sacrament. We happened upon them just as the preacher invoked the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, just as he named them husband and wife under the banner of the Trinity. And if this sacrament within The First Sacrament were not enough, after the first kiss, the bride and groom made their way into the river. No, it wasn’t a formal baptism, but it turned into a baptism nonetheless.

 

The world is a sacramental place, a place where God’s grace is made known to us through the elements, through vows, through the things that otherwise seem ordinary. Sacraments unfold within sacraments within sacraments, and in that unfolding, somehow, the world is preserved.

Thanks be to God.

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Justice and Mercy in the Disposable Marriage Era

1. This is the scripture du jour: “what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” It’s been the scripture of the decade, perhaps of the millennia, and it’s made its way into our collective consciousness. Thousands of bloggers cite it each week. Preachers spur you to action with it. I saw it on a tattoo a month ago, with a minor artistic variation on theme–act justli, love merci, and walk humbli. (It was, I think, the tattoed’s attempt to embody the text, to say “justice, mercy, and humility start with I,” a statement which my inner grammarian rejects.)

Justice and mercy–they’re the darlings of our moment. (Humility seems to get the short shrift.)

But consider this: there is justice; there is mercy; then there is only the mere idea of justice and mercy.

2. I’m on the precipice of my fortieth year (a vertigo-inducing precipice to be sure) and so, I’ve now lived through a trend or two. Among them are these: the plastic and pink 80s; the grunge era; the back to the Back To The Land Movement; the sustainable everything decade; the new social justice movement; and the era of gnarly, unkempt beards (there are, of course, hundreds more, and some of these certainly intersect). In this–the year I cross the threshold of middle age–I feel as though I’m living through a new trend: the Disposable Marriage Era (let’s call it the DME).

(2a. That is not to say that there aren’t some very good reasons for couples to call it quits (and I know, I know–this is such an un-Christian statement). I’ve seen marriages in which the men abused the women (run, run, run, I’ve said). I’ve seen marriages in which the women abused the men (run, run, run, I’ve said). Cheaters have done what cheaters do, and how can any man tolerate that sort of pain? You may have lived through this sort of situation, and of course, this is not what I’m invoking when I write of the DME. There are reasons to head for the hills, to leave a marriage behind. Even the scriptures seem to indicate as much.)

3. The confluence of the Justice movement and the DME are a curious thing. After all, what could be more just than honoring your spouse? What could be more merciful that practicing forgiveness and walking into the light of the vows you made all those years ago? (Walking into vows is a continual, sometimes harder-than-hell practice.) What could be more humble that being splayed at the feet of your bonded lover? And yet, why do the marriages of the modern faith-bearers (sometimes justice seekers) fall to the firing squad of the DME?

4. I’ve heard it over and over again–I deserve to be happy or We’re both such different people now or I just need to be who I am. I’ve heard it out of one side of folks’ mouths, while out of the other I’ve heard these things–Buy fair trade fabric or Engage racial reconciliation or Love the orphan.

Happiness–as if that’s the highest ideal.

Change–as if our vows don’t follow us.

Self-actualization–as if we don’t lay some of that aside at the marriage altar.

5. So many of us work, work, work to reconcile the land, the races, society to the orphan, and these are good, noble, virtuous things. These things embody acting justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly. But what could it look like if we treated marriage as a justice issue? How might we embody marital reconciliation even as we work to reconcile the land, the races, society to the orphan?

What if we asked the same questions of our marriages we ask in the pursuit of justice and mercy:

Am I (are we) versatile? 

Is our marital course sustainable?

Are we creating something lasting, something with longevity, perhaps something permanent and beautiful?

This, I think, might be the way to draw us from the DME and into something with sticking power. It might turn our mass-produced and plastic vows into something more elemental, more life-giving, more human.

 

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The Marriage We Learned in the Apocalypse

“These are the things we had before the apocalypse: a country home, middle-class appointments, 2.5 jobs, four children, a couple of dogs, a cat, and a marriage swimming in the blithe love of American ease.”

This is the sentence I spoke two nights ago in a dream. It was a dream of a scorched-earth America, an ash-gray version of our Land Of The Free whose capitulation to a strong man had worked a great ruin. I don’t count this dream as something prophetic (at least not as some count prophecy), or as any sort of comment on the current political climate. Instead, the dream was the offspring of an over-active imagination and a conversation with Amber about The Walking Dead. Perhaps a late-night apple and peanut butter contributed, too. Did a sinus infection amp up the scene? Who knows.

It was only a dream.

It was only a dream. 

It was only a dream.

Right?

The next morning’s news was its own exercise in dreaming, with some pundits calling our President “unhinged” and others calling him “unparalleled.” Social media was on fire (as social media tends to be) and every status update was an unmoderated call for either impeachment and enthronement. That’s when it struck me–everyone has an opinion and a gun these days (and if not a gun a knife, and if not a knife an ax, and if not an ax a frying pan) and they’re not afraid to use either. And our Commander in Chief? He has an opinion and a nuclear arsenal, and according to his own presser, he’s not afraid to use either of those, either. 

Lord have mercy.

This is not a piece on politics. I swear it. But here’s what I know: the division of this country has grown long in the tooth, its appetite for destruction insatiable. And how hard is it to keep a marriage together in this divisive, destructive atmosphere? Pretty danged, I’d say. I sat in my morning chair, scrolling the news, the social media feeds and wondering: how do you build an apocalypse-proof marriage? Control, comfort, security, leisure, endless activity, maybe even the vote–these are the things that so often bind our marriages, if only by scotch tape and stitches. What’s left when the illusions afforded by privilege burn up and blow away? What would it take to keep a marriage together after the sky has burned to ash? 

I tried on a few answers. Love? Yes. Sex? I sure hope. (Let’s be honest: Don’t humans always find a way?) But these didn’t seem quite sufficient. Wouldn’t it take more? Maybe it take these things: the shared toil against inhospitable soil, the work of composting new, more forgiving stuff; a shared mission, like a common resistance to the powers of apocalypse; the wisdom that came by living through the fire; the shared responsibility of teaching a better hope to the children of our children; an understanding of the ways anger, distrust, and hate are buried in every human heart, even our own; a collaboration in building institutions that fight to unearth all that anger, distrust, and hate. I considered these qualities, played them out against an imagined dystopian future, and that’s when it struck me–the qualities we’d embody after the fire, what if we embodied them before?

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